I see ourselves and United as similar clubs in many ways.
Both have been definitive in shaping the Premier League as a global sporting brand.
Both have had iconic players and managers, in PL history and prior. For every Best, Sir Bobby, Robson, Keane, Schmeichel, Beckham and Cantona, there is a Jennings, O’Leary, Brady, Adams, Sansom, Wright, Bergkamp, and Henry.
And both are wealthy clubs, with global fanbases, and are great clubs for their history and achievements as much as their contemporary successes (take note Chelsea). Liverpool is perhaps bigger than us overall (with a potential sixth Champions League soon, who knows?) but United and Arsenal are definitely two genuine “old money” football clubs.
So despite this backdrop, it’s odd that this game, and between managers who “hate” each other, is pretty muted.
It’s wrong to say that the match doesn’t matter. However, for various reasons, the spark has been lost somewhat.
Both have “bigger fish” to fry..
United have Champions League football secured, and their intra-city rivals are the champions. They also defeated our good friends from the Borough of Haringey at their “home” ground and can win the FA Cup in kind. So this game to them means little. What’s more, is that given the words of their all-time great manager (now director) Sir Alex, and their current manager, it seems this will be some kind of love-in and appreciation for Wenger. Jose even said that he wants to be “friends” with Wenger now, which is as ironic as it is comical, given past comments directed towards him.
We are looking for the Europa League, and this naturally has our attention.
Don’t expect a cracker like in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Both Wenger and Mourinho, and for sound reasons, won’t prioritise this game.
Alexis (remember him?)
And let’s not forget the Alexis factor. He’s been poor since he joined them, but knowing our luck, he will score and play a blinder.
I wasn’t angry when he left us, and to be fair, it’s our fault he did. He couldn’t tolerate our banter club performances, and if I were in his position, I would leave too. The factor causing our banter club-ness as it were is going very soon, but then I hold no negative feelings towards him. He did leave with grace, and said some charming words on his Instagram when leaving, and when Wenger announced he was “resigning”.
However, if he plays, he will be one to watch and I won’t surprise me at all if he scores or at least plays well here.
With the Atletico tie to conclude, it’s not wise to play a full strength team.
I anticipate there will be changes made, and our top players cannot be risked.
I predict this team:
Bellerin Holding Chambers Kolasinac
Welbeck Iwobi Nelson
This naturally is not full-strength, but we have to make do.
I think, as always, Jose will have some kind of plan to manage us. However, I think he’ll look to flood the midfield, hit us on the break, and put pressure on our “stalwart” defence.
The utilisations of Lukaku, Alexis, Pogba, and Matic, are all key in this.
It’s possible Wenger may go for a 433. This would counter United’s potential midfield dominance, and would provide better cover for our defence.
Ospina over Cech
I like Cech a lot, and he’s a PL-era legend. Only Schmeichel and our own Seaman can be said to better him or rival him. That said, I think he should be number two now, and yes, it’s a controversial point. Nonetheless, Ospina’s issue is that he’s too erratic on occasion, but overall he is a top quality keeper. I believe the new manager may keep him, or get a coach to help him lessen the errors. If so, I believe he warrants a start here.
Man U 2-1 Arsenal
I don’t generally predict losses, but then given the huge game in Madrid next week, I am less confident. Wenger cannot afford to risk a full-strength team, and it’s pretty much the case that he will rotate heavily.
I don’t think they will smash us, but then since Wenger and Mourinho are now friends, I think Jose may go easy on his “new buddy”. There has been talk amongst United fans and the media that given the need for us to rotate, it could be another 8-2, or similar. This is hyperbole in my view, but then worst case scenario is a 4-0 defeat or worse.